‘Chef Klaus’ dies, ‘helped put Frankfort on the map’
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com August 21, 2012 2:04PM
Chef Klaus Ditschler, whose Southland restaurants have been synonymous with German food, died Saturday. | File photo
Updated: September 23, 2012 6:14AM
Klaus Ditschler, known in the Frankfort community as “Chef Klaus,” died Saturday at age 77.
Visitation will be from noon to 9 p.m. Thursday at Gerardi Funeral Home, 42 E. Lincoln Highway in Frankfort. A funeral service is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday at the funeral home. Interment will be at Pleasant Hill Cemetery in Frankfort.
Mr. Ditschler, known for his famous German restaurant Die Bier Stube, was in the restaurant business in Frankfort for nearly 40 years. He and his sons Michael and Karl also operated the Peotone Bier Stube and Chef Klaus’ Country Cooking in Mokena.
Mr. Ditschler fell ill Friday at home, according to his son Michael.
“I asked him three times if he wanted to go to the hospital. He was having breathing issues and he had some heart problems,” Michael Ditschler said.
Mr. Ditschler was taken by ambulance to the hospital Friday and died Saturday morning, his son said. His death stunned the community and his employees.
“It’s a total shock,” Frankfort Mayor Jim Holland said. “Chef Klaus had a tremendous positive impact on Frankfort and the people of Frankfort. He helped put Frankfort on the map with high-quality German cuisine and entertainment. He knew how to bring ‘gemutlichkeit’ (good times) to Frankfort.”
Holland said Mr. Ditschler — a “flamboyant personality” — initiated Sauerkraut Days, which eventually evolved into today’s Fall Festival.
“I’m sorry to see him go. The people of Frankfort are going to miss him, no question about it,” he said.
Holland said he dined at Chef Klaus’ Bier Stube the Monday before Mr. Ditschler’s death, and said he was “quite lively, in great spirits and full of life.”
The chef was discussing his future plans to bring in entertainers from Germany, Holland said.
He said Mr. Ditschler was a personal friend who always referred to him as “Herr Burgermeister” (Mr. Mayor).
Mr. Ditschler first opened his restaurant in downtown Frankfort, occupying a few different sites, before getting established at Kansas and Oak streets. That restaurant burned to the ground in 2001 and never reopened.
“Every week, someone comes into the chamber of commerce office looking for that German restaurant,” chamber president Keith Ogle said. “He was an iconic part of Frankfort.”
Mr. Ditschler later opened a steak and seafood restaurant at 20827 LaGrange Road in Frankfort, but soon returned the business to its Germanic roots and called it Chef Klaus’ Bier Stube.
Ernesto Luciano, a 25-year employee of Mr. Ditschler and manager of the Frankfort restaurant, said, “He was like my dad. I still cannot believe it. I still think he will show up” for work, as he did every day in Frankfort.
“Every day, he was here, making sure things were running fine,” Luciano said.
The chef always occupied the same table and chair, where he would sip his coffee.
“We made a lot of decisions together. It is going to be tough without him, but we will keep working,” Luciano said.
The customers and employees are “shocked” and “sad,” he said.
Luciano said the restaurants would stay open during funeral services.
“He used to say, ‘If anything happens to me, I do not want the restaurants to close. I want everyone to be happy,’ ” Luciano said.
Michael Ditschler said his father first came to the area in the 1950s from Germany, where he was a barber. His uncle was a butcher and his grandfather was a chef, which likely sparked Chef Klaus’ interest in opening his first restaurant 39 years ago, his son said.
“His whole life was that business,” he said. “He loved what he did.”
There will be no changes to the three restaurants, he said. Michael Ditschler has owned the Mokena and Frankfort sites, while his brother Karl operates the Peotone Bier Stube.
“My dad always told me if anything happened to him, to take care of the business,” Michael Ditschler said. “He taught me well. I will never be him, but I will do the best I can.
“He was a very caring person, a giving person and kindhearted. I will miss him severely,” he said. “He is not here, but his spirit is here.”
In addition to his two sons, Mr. Ditschler is survived by two grandchildren, Michael and Michelle.